Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Governor Cooper Proclaims April as Autism Awareness Month

Apr 30, 2024

Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed April as World Autism Month in North Carolina to raise awareness and recognize individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their families and organizations working to support them.

“People with autism spectrum disorder are a valued part of our communities, employers, and North Carolina as a whole,” said Governor Cooper. “All people deserve support and opportunities to succeed. We will continue to fight for fair treatment and inclusive environments for everyone in our state.”

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and consists of a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. A 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of 8-year-olds that have been identified as having autism in North Carolina—1 in 39, or 2.5 percent—exceeds the national average of 1.85 percent. Compared to other areas in the U.S. that were monitored for ASD prevalence, North Carolina had the highest proportion of children with ASD who had received a comprehensive evaluation performed by age 3. However, only 23% of autistic adults with average or above-average intellectual abilities have a paid job in the community.  

Governor Cooper has demonstrated steadfast leadership in advocating for individuals with ASD and fostering inclusive environments for them to thrive. His commitment is evident through initiatives like Executive Order 92: Employment First for North Carolinians with Disabilities. Additionally, Governor Cooper's establishment of the Career Advancement Resource for Employees on the Spectrum (NC CARES) and collaboration with the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) to launch LiNC-IT underscore his proactive approach in creating opportunities for autistic individuals to excel in the workforce.

March 2024 marked the fifth anniversary of Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 92: Employment First for North Carolinians with Disabilities. The executive order charged state agencies with facilitating welcoming environments across state government where individuals with disabilities could successfully participate in competitive, integrated employment. State employees have credited the designation of North Carolina as an Employment First state with creating a more supportive environment for state employees with disabilities. In 2022, Governor Cooper announced the Career Advancement Resource for Employees on the Spectrum (NC CARES) which provides up to 5 hours of coaching support to permanent state employees who are diagnosed with ASD. The coaching support is for employees who are looking to advance their career in North Carolina state government or who are seeking assistance in adapting to changes in their work environment such as a new manager.

In 2018, Governor Cooper and the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) launched LiNC-IT. LiNC-IT provides job coaching for early career autistic professionals and their managers, and helps employers find and support new talent. Job coaching support is funded through NC Vocational Rehabilitation and provided by employment specialists at the UNC TEACCH Autism Center and the Autism Society of North Carolina. The program has 44 employer partners that have hired LiNC-IT talent with a variety of degrees including engineering, computer science, English, data science, accounting, and library science. Since the program launched in 2018, LiNC-IT has supported 115 autistic individuals in internships and employment. You can hear from LiNC-IT employers and participants in this video. There are currently have 55 individuals with valuable degrees in need of placement.

LiNC-IT also hosts the NC Autism & Higher Education Collaborative for staff at colleges and universities in the state. The collaborative meets virtually every six to eight weeks and features a variety of guest speakers, including on topics such as launching a program to support neurodivergent students, creating a sensory lounge, Universal Design strategies, and accessing Vocational Rehabilitation supports. LiNC-IT recognizes the importance of helping students on the autism spectrum succeed in college and gain work-based learning experience.

Through a grant from the Tides Foundation, LINC-IT will launch a pilot youth apprenticeship program this summer. High school students with ASD from Durham, Johnston and Orange Counties will participate in Biotech Career Academies participating in work-based learning, taking coursework to support employability skills, and learning careers in the sector. 

To learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit the UNC TEACCH Autism Center, Autism Society of North Carolina and the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development.

For more information on LiNC-IT or to get involved, visit the LiNC-IT website or email NCBCEadmin@nc.gov.

Read the proclamation.


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